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Film / Death Warrant

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Death Warrant is a 1990 action movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

In the Harrison State Prison in California, prisoners are mysteriously dying in increasing numbers. Detective Burke (Van Damme) is called in on a state task force to investigate the deaths, going undercover as a new inmate pretending to be an old friend of one of the recently deceased. He soon discovers that a massive organ harvesting operation is taking place under the warden's eye and after repeated attempts to kill Burke and cover it up fail, Burke's old nemesis, a Serial Killer known as "the Sandman" (Patrick Kilpatrick), is also transferred to the prison to take out Burke.

This film provides examples of:

  • Amoral Attorney: The organ harvesting operation in the prison was masterminded by California's Attorney General Tom Vogler.
  • Asshole Victim: The mastermind behind the organ harvesting operation notes that the prisoners are targeted specifically on the basis that "no one will miss them".
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • The Sandman is a psychotic serial killer who murdered people for fun. Near the climax, he releases all the prisoners from their cells to watch them cause mayhem.
    • The two cons who worked together with the warden to kill prisoners and silence anyone who might expose it seem to be in it more out of sadism than any profit.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: Almost immediately after the Sandman arrives in the prison, he has his admirers gang up on Burke in a surprise attack to string him up and kill him. Then the Sandman suddenly decides to let Burke go so he "won't know when it's coming", despite having just achieved exactly that.
  • Cop Killer: The Sandman has a fondness for killing cops. This drives Burke to hunt him down in the opening for killing his partner, and the other convicts to admire him.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: The guy behind it all, Tom Vogler, killed people for their organs to save his dying wife.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: The prison officials, on the orders of their mastermind, bring the Ax-Crazy killer the Sandman to their prison to kill Burke. The Sandman uses the opportunity to release all the prisoners and start a riot for his own amusement.
  • Fan Disservice: Burke is shown naked, but the context makes it unappealing, as he's been confined to solitary under suspicion of having killed his cellmate. Amanda is also shown getting undressed at one point, but it’s for a forced strip search by prison guards and is presented as the unpleasant encounter that it is.
  • Hidden Villain: It's clear that the Warden and his buddies are evil, but they're backed by a mysterious agent. It turns out to be one of the men who assigned Burke on the task force to begin with, Amanda's boss Tom Vogler.
  • Infernal Retaliation: In the climax, Burke kicks the Sandman into a furnace. The fight initially seems to be over, but the Sandman then jumps out in flames, still trying to kill him.
  • Implacable Man: The Sandman seems to be superhumanly durable. He is shot once but keeps trying to kill Burke. Multiple gunshot wounds are just a temporary inconvenience. He even survives being set on fire.
  • Karmic Death: The corrupt doctor who harvested the prisoners' organs is captured by the prisoners and implied to be killed by vivisection.
  • Mugging the Monster: In the opening, a couple of gangbangers try to rob the hero cop Louis Burke; he hasn't got time for them, being in the neighborhood solely to avenge his dead partner by catching his killer, so he quickly dispatches them and gets on with his mission.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Van Damme's Belgian accent is passed off as Quebecois. This would not be the only film where filmmakers attempted this.
  • Organ Theft: Corrupt prison officials have prisoners killed to sell their organs for profit.
  • Pervy Patdown: Amanda is subjected to this at one point by two male prison guards. When she demands a female guard do it she’s denied, and then she’s subjected to a strip search.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Warden and the rest of his guards are blatantly racist: at one point he hunts down one of Burke's allies to kill him, claiming that he "can smell niggers".
  • Prison Rape: When Burke first enters his own cell, his bunkmate threatens to rape him. The muscular Burke, unimpressed, quickly shows him who's boss by beating him up. They become buddies afterwards.
  • Prison Riot: The Sandman releases all the prisoners to watch them sow mayhem and clash with the authorities.
  • Serial Killer: The Sandman killed several people before he was tracked down and shot by Burke, including Burke's partner; in prison, he happily goes on another rampage.
  • Sex for Solace: Burke and Amanda engage in this after Burke is beaten and tortured by the prison guards, and Amanda is subjected to an unnecessary strip search by these same guards.
  • Unexplained Recovery: Burke shot the Sandman multiple times in the chest from close range in the past, and he seemed to be dead. Somehow, the Sandman not only survived but Burke had never heard he'd done this until they met again two years (very unlikely, and if he did Burke's likely to have been at least the star witness in his trial, so he'd know). Not only did he survive, but apparently he's in perfect health given his very athletic battles with Burke in prison, while such injuries would probably disable a person permanently even if they'd survived. However, it also seems he's Made of Iron, as seen later when he didn't go down after getting caught on fire and had to get his head impaled on a spike to kill him.
  • Villain Cred: The Sandman is a renowned figure in the prison due to his love for killing cops; when he's first brought to the prison, the other cons give him a huge ovation. He has no problem finding allies among them who are willing to follow his orders.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The man behind the plot to harvest prisoner organs, moments after intending to dispose of the person who discovered his role in this, is turned into a whimpering mess when he is interrupted by his wife, whom he now has to tell just how he bought her a few more years of life.
  • Wardens Are Evil: The Warden agrees with corrupt state officials to kill his prisoners to harvest their organs. Unlike the mastermind behind this scheme, his own motive is just profit. He's also a violent racist and a sadistic bully.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The mastermind behind the plot, State Attorney Tom Vogler, killed violent prisoners (whom he claims no one will miss anyway) because of the desperate shortage of organ transplants on the market. He also did it to save his beloved wife.
  • Welcome to Hell: During the climactic fight scene in the industrial sections of the prison, the psycho killer the Sandman is trouncing Burke in front of the spectating prisoners. He then opens one of the furnaces, and proudly declares "Welcome to HELL!"
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Sandman is implied to have been a child murderer, with Burke finding a baby doll in his lair covered in blood.